Political conjunctions

The real division in politics is one of grammar

Dateline 03 June 2005

Liberal, libertarian or conservative? Internationalist or unilateralist? Moderate or extremist? Such terms are of little use in finding out what really matters about a politician. For that you need to look at their conjunctions. Cast your mind back to school. Conjunctions are those little words that link one part of a sentence to another. Conjunctions reveal the true dividing line in politics. It is between those who say “but” and those who say “and so”.

All politicians start with the vision thing. Then comes the conjunction. And finally, the action thing. Perhaps the best example concerns regime change in Iraq, for the USA had a policy of supporting regime change for many years and under two presidents. By lucky happenstance these two men provide us with examples of our two types of politician.

Bill Clinton: “We support regime change in Iraq, but . . .”

George W Bush: “We support regime change in Iraq, and so . . .”

The most important words quoted above are not the visions, which are identical, but the conjunctions. They tell you everything you really need to know. “And so” tells you that what will follow is a list of things the President is going to do to turn the vision into reality. “But” tells you that whatever follows, no matter how cleverly crafted and fluently spoken, will be a list of reasons why the President is not going to anything much at all.

“But” politicians are not so much interested in solving problems as postponing them. Gray Davis knew California had a budget crisis, but he thought if he kept lying about the figures until three days after the election he would be safe for his second term. Similarly Bill Clinton’s policy of sanctions and the occasional missile fired at Iraq could hurt Iraqis, but only served to enrich members of the regime.

Hillary Clinton voted to authorise the President to liberate Iraq, but she did so in the belief this was the best way of ensuring it wouldn’t happen. Is that clear?

John Kerry scales the height of absurdity with the frequency of his “buts”. He voted to authorise Operation Iraqi freedom, but he voted against funding the occupation. Sorry, he voted in favour of the funding before he voted against it, and wouldn’t have voted against it if his vote had actually been the deciding one. There. Is that clear?

Kerry and Edwards opposed the federal marriage amendment, but not so strongly as to actually vote against it. But while they are, a little bit, opposed to amending the constitution, they are not so clear where they stand on gay marriage in principle. And even if we ever hear their principles, we can be sure that the next word will be “but”.

George W Bush does not say “but”. It is not just on Iraq. He believes that Americans pay too much tax and that cutting taxes revitalises the economy, and so . . . .

“But” politicians are making a bogus sale. No matter how attractive you find their vision, they are not planning to do anything to implement it.

So next time you hear a politician speaking, listen carefully to the conjunctions. The “vision thing” tells you what leaders will say. Their conjunctions will tell you what they plan to do.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 03 June 2005

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